Pontoon boats were once a curious breed of boat, but these days, we expect them to perform as well as a V-hull, look as sharp as a speed boat, and offer the luxury of a megayacht. And on these counts, new pontoons for 2016 deliver. Here are our top 10 picks for the year.
Bennington 2250 GSR
Reviewer Gary Reich rode on the Bennington 2250 GSR late last summer and was immediately impressed by its “buttery-feeling upholstery” and “cushy pillow-top seat-backs.” He also discovered signs of real value for a mid-level offering. One example: depending on how it’s laid out and rigged the cost of this pontoon can range anywhere from the mid-30’s to the mid 50’s, yet the helm console is molded fiberglass—not the more common roto-molded plastic seen on lesser pontoons. Down-sides Reich noted include a creaking Bimini top frame and a pop-up table that “didn’t feel up to Bennington’s high standards”. Otherwise, however, the boat scored high for fit and finish, construction strength, and performance.
For more information on the 2250 GSR, visit Bennington.
See Bennington 2250 GSR listings.
Cobalt Marker One
Our next pick isn’t a single hull, but a model line: the Marker One (built by Cobalt). Cobalt may have introduced the Marker One last year but it still makes our list, because it remains one of the most unique—and best-looking—pontoon boats on the face of the planet, and this year its model line expands significantly. The reason why it’s so unusual can be seen at a glance: instead of a deck, fencing, and furniture made from plywood, aluminum, and plastic, the Marker One has a molded fiberglass topsides. And while the 2015 roll-out included only the M25 and M27 models, now the ML4 and ML5 models have been added. Reviewer Brett Becker noted that the Marker One maintains Cobalt’s industry-leading level of detail work, which can be seen in the stainless-steel windshield trimming, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and upholstered dash brow. Down-sides? To get top quality, you have to shell out big bucks. Click on the link to listings, below, to see just how big.
For more information on the Marker One, visit Marker One.
See Marker One listings.
Escape RT 220
Another pontoon boat that incorporates an extensive use of fiberglass construction is the Escape RT 220. Not only do the fiberglass fence corners look sharper than aluminum, when we ran this boat we discovered they also eliminate the common annoying “fence rattle” so many pontoons suffer from. The console is fiberglass as well. The Escape RT 220 also offers a high level of customization and is available in both two- and three-tube models. And, with a starting price of about $30,000, the Escape RT 220 fares well in cost-comparisons between similarly-sized options. Our lone gripe is a common one: the removable pedestal table is rather chintzy, and wobbles quite a bit. Still, put all the factors together and the RT 220 is a clear winner.
For more information, visit Escape by Larson.
See Escape RT 220 listings.
Lowe Infinity 250 CL
We give kudos to the Lowe Infinity 250 CL for taking interior layout and design to a new level when it comes to socializing. Instead of following the usual pontoon layout recipe, they created convertible seating arrangements that can be adjusted to serve either the individual, or the crowd. In the stern the seating units can work as either a aft-facing lounger (for an individual or two), or as a pair of facing settees (for conversation between multiple people). The bow is designed with the same convertible versatility. Although the rest of the boat is standard pontoon fare (plywood decks, aluminum fences, and 0.08” thick aluminum tubes) the thought that went into this boat’s design and the enhanced usability it creates are worthy of note.
For more information, visit Lowe.
See Lowe Infinity 250 CL listings.
Manitou 23 Encore SR VP
When our reviewer inspected the Manitou 23 Encore, he noticed things like quality welds and deck supports, cool-touch fabrics, pillow-top backrests, and molded fiberglass seat bases. Although there was some rattling from the fence and gates while underway, he wrote he “could tell that a lot of care went into its assembly.” He also said that the 23 Encore had “some of the nicest furniture and upholstery I’ve ever seen on a pontoon boat—regardless of price.” Yet the price of this boat is not at all high by today’s standards, starting at around $35,000 and hitting $50,000 fully rigged and with a Yamaha VMAX SHO 115 outboard. For all of these reasons we put the Manitou 23 Encore into the winner’s circle.
For more information, visit Manitou.
See Manitou 23 Encore listings.
Premier Dodici 310
Premier raised some eyebrows when it rolled out the ginormous Dodici 310. This monster of a pontoon boat carries not one, not two, but three outboards. We tested it with triple Evinrude E-TEC G2 300 HP engines, and hit an eye-watering 60 MPH. Aside from all that raw power and speed, the Dodici 310 also has a huge amount of deck space—360 square feet in all—and the ability to haul a party crew of up to 26 people. The down-side to all this mass is the boat’s dockage limitations; you’ll need a slip that can accommodate a whopping 11’10’ beam and a 33’3” LOA. Still, if you want to be the undisputed king of the lake, this is your throne.
For more information, visit Premier.
See Premier 310 Dodici listings.
Premier Sunsation 270 Walk-On
Thanks to its integrated waterslide and double-decker design, the Premier Sunsation 270 is a must-see party barge that barges onto our Top 10 list. True, that second story did cause some creaking noise while running the boat through a two-foot sea, but what do you expect when blasting through a steep chop at 54.3 MPH? Yes, we said 54.3 MPH. And even at this speed reviewer Gary Reich said the whole boat felt sturdy, he couldn’t make the boat behave badly even when pulling tight circles and high-speed cut-aways in the rough conditions, and its handling qualities were “exemplary”. He also noted the boat’s five year stem-to-stern warranty, a rich-feeling helm with stitched leather trim and faux-carbon accents, and a lounge-heavy layout. Now, ignore all that other stuff—did we mention that this double-decker pontoon has a built-in waterslide? ‘Nuff said.
For more information, visit Premier.
See Premier Pontoon listings.
Qwest Luxury Series 818
The Quest Luxury Series 818 is quite small, but therein lies its appeal. With a diminutive and fuel-efficient Honda BF100 it has plenty of get up and go with a top-end in the upper 30’s; at 18’5” by 7’7” and displacing 1,800 lbs. it’s easy to tow; and even well-equipped it’s still in the $30,000 range. Yet onboard, the quality is that of a far larger, more expensive boat. The console is molded fiberglass, upholstery is Comfort Touch, seat bases are built with Duralight composites, and it comes with a long list of unusual standard features like a chartplotter/fishfinder, an Infinity PRV Bluetooth stereo system, an Italian-designed sport steering wheel, a Bimini top with boot, and LED lighting. If you want top quality in a small package, the Qwest Luxury Series 818 cannot go unnoticed.
For more information, visit Qwest.
See Quest listings.
Sun Tracker Bass Buggy 16 DLX
You don’t have to be rich to buy a new pontoon boat, but if your budget is tight and you need to keep cost to a bare minimum then it’s time to check out the Sun Tracker Bass Buggy 16 DLX—a boat that also made our list of 10 New Fishing Boats for Under $20,000. But don’t let that $20,000 figure deceive you. It’s actually possible to purchase this boat for a whole lot less. As of the time of this printing Sun Tracker is listing the 16 DLX at $12,095 with a 20 HP Mercury four-stroke engine. If you need a trailer, add $1,995 to the sticker price. It comes with fishy features like rodholders and a livewell, but it also has the lounging touches most pontooners want, such as multi-density foam seats, a Bimini top, an aft lounger, and vibration-deadening fence insulation. With all these features and a big bold asterisk next to that unbelievably low price tag, the Sun Tracker Bass Buggy 16 DLX joins the Top 10.
For more information, visit Sun Tracker.
See Sun Tracker listings.
Veranda Vertex 22 RFL
We like pontoon boats that feel well-built, we like them to feel sturdy in rough seas, and we like them to feel that way even when running fast. That’s why we like the Veranda Vertex 22 RFL so much that we chose to put it on this list. The Vertex is built with a deck of interlocking aluminum pieces that are welded to the aluminum tubes. That means it will never rot, will never warp, and feels solid as a rock underfoot. When we put the boat through a few tugboat wakes, we discovered that the stout construction method translates into an amazingly smooth ride, too. What about performance? With a Yamaha VF175 V MAX SHO outboard we hit 40 MPH. Room for improvement? You’ve heard it before: the pedestal table wobbles and feels cheap. Otherwise, however, the Veranda Vertex 22 RFL is built on par or better than virtually any other pontoon boat on the planet.
For more information, visit Veranda.
See Veranda pontoon boat listings.